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Clara Barton papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00011

Scope and Contents

The Clara Barton Papers consist of 4 linear feet of correspondence, printed material, manuscript notes, speeches, writings, photographs, and memorabilia. The bulk of the papers date from 1860 to 1912. There are two separate accessions. The first consists of writings, correspondence, and memorabilia collected as sources by Rev. William Barton for his biography of his cousin. It contains memorabilia, clippings, and organizational records from Clara Barton's work in the Civil War, Red Cross, and other relief organizations, as well as material of a more personal nature, including correspondence between Barton her friends and family. Barton was very much interested in spiritualism and there is material about this in SERIES I and II.

The second accession, incorporated as SERIES VI, contains material related to Mary Kensel and Roscoe Wells and their relationship to Clara Barton, the National First Aid Association of America, and the Red Cross. Clara Barton gave a portion of the material to her secretary Mary Kensel Wells who supplemented the papers with her own family material. It then appears that Sally Hooper, who was given the papers by Mary Kensel Wells, used items for exhibit purposes and also added more recent material about Clara Barton

Although the bulk of Clara Barton's papers are located at the Library of Congress, the papers in the Sophia Smith Collection provide a significant insight into Barton's life and professional accomplishments. Personal correspondence, Civil War writings and memorabilia, and Red Cross material are of particular interest.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1822-1982
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1860-1912


Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use without restriction beyond the standard terms and conditions of Smith College Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

The literary rights to the Wells papers belong to the Sophia Smith Collection. The holder of the copyright to Clara Barton's unpublished works is unknown. For reproductions of materials that are governed by fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. Researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights and obtaining approval from them. Researchers do not need anything further from Smith College Special Collections to move forward with their use.

Biographical / Historical

Clarissa Harlow Barton was born in North Oxford, MA, on December 25, 1821, the fifth and last child of Stephen and Sarah (Stone) Barton. She was a shy and lonely child, and for two years at the age of eleven she devoted her time to nursing her brother David during a protracted illness, an experience which later affected her life's work. At eighteen she began to teach in neighboring schools. In 1850 she spent a year at the Liberal Institute of Clinton, NY. She resumed her teaching in New Jersey where, in 1852, she founded the state's first free or public school in Bordentown. In February 1854 she resigned to take up a position as clerk in the Patent Office in Washington DC., possibly the first regularly appointed woman civil servant. Deprived of her position in 1857 after a Democratic victory, she returned to Oxford. She returned to the Patent Office in late 1860. At the beginning of the Civil War, witnessing the almost total lack of first-aid supplies at the battle of Bull Run, she advertised for provisions. Using her own limited quarters as a storeroom, she accumulated supplies and, with a few friends, began in the summer of 1862 to distribute them by mule team to hospitals and camps on the battlefields. Barton had an uncanny ability to short-circuit military routine, appearing at military engagements with needed supplies, and increasingly she won the respect and admiration of commanding officers and surgeons. As the Sanitary Commission and other agencies grew more organized, Barton's role diminished, but in June 1864, she accepted an appointment as head nurse in Benjamin Butler's Army of the James. In 1865 she established an office in Annapolis where she and a few assistants sought to piece together information concerning missing men and in July 1865 she directed the marking of the graves of almost 13,000 men who died in Andersonville Prison. Between 1866 and 1868, while continuing her missing persons work, she lectured throughout the North and West. Exhausted by her activities, she went to Europe in 1868 for rest and recuperation. While there she worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). She also distributed funds provided by American relief committees in France. At the outbreak of the Russo-Turkish war in 1877 she initiated a five-year campaign for the organization of the American Red Cross Society. In March 1882, American affiliation with the International Red Cross was accomplished and Barton was chosen president of the American Association of the Red Cross. Between 1881 and 1904 she devoted her energies to Red Cross work, providing relief in disasters domestic and abroad, including aid to Cuban civilians and American soldiers during the Spanish American War. By 1904, new methods and leadership were needed and she was forced to resign by the board of directors. She moved to Glen Echo, MD in 1897, where she organized the National First Aid Association of America in 1906. She died April 12, 1912, and was buried in North Oxford, MA.

Mary Kensel was born in 1879. In 1905 at the age of 26 she became secretary (and close friend) to Clara Barton, a position she held until Barton's death in 1912. She married Roscoe Wells, treasurer, vice president, and assistant to the president of the National First Aid Association, which was founded by Barton in 1906. The Wells in their later years moved in with the family of Sally Hooper. After the death of Roscoe Wells (circa 1959) Sally Hooper continued to care for Mary (then an invalid) until her death in 1969.


10.232 linear feet (19 containers)


Nurse; Founder and President, American National Red Cross. Worked as a nurse in the Civil war and initiated a campaign to develop the American Red Cross. Papers include correspondence, manuscript notes, speeches, writings, photographs, memorabilia, and files documenting her work for the Civil War, Red Cross, and other relief organizations.


This collection is organized into six series:

  1. I. Biographical Material
  2. II. Correspondence
  3. III. Speeches and Writings
  4. IV. Civil War and Relief Activities
  5. V. Memorabilia and Photographs
  6. VI. Kensel-Wells Family

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Clara Barton Papers were given to the Sophia Smith Collection in 1953 by Mary Stilwell Bryant and four other relatives who were joint owners. They were formally owned and collected by their grandfather, Rev. William E. Barton, when he wrote a biography of his cousin, Clara. Additional papers were donated in 1987 by Oliver Hooper, who inherited them from his wife, Sally, who received them from Mary Kensel Wells, Clara Barton's secretary.

Existence and Location of Copies

The collection was microfilmed in 2007 and a copy is included in the collection.

Related Material

Additional Clara Barton Papers are at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Processing Information

Reprocessed by Susan Boone, 2000.

Clara Barton papers
Finding Aid
Susan Boone
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (
  • 2005-09-23: mnsss15 converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02-5c.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
  • 2017-07-26T17:48:11-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.

Repository Details

Part of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063